Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Does Kerry Want To Model Syrian Intervention On The Bosnian War?

As the Obama administration contemplates a strategy for intervening in Syria, Jeffrey Goldberg writes that the Pentagon Shoots Down Kerry’s Syria Airstrike Plan:
At a principals meeting in the White House situation room, Secretary of State John Kerry began arguing, vociferously, for immediate U.S. airstrikes against airfields under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime -- specifically, those fields it has used to launch chemical weapons raids against rebel forces.

It was at this point that the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the usually mild-mannered Army General Martin Dempsey, spoke up, loudly. According to several sources, Dempsey threw a series of brushback pitches at Kerry, demanding to know just exactly what the post-strike plan would be and pointing out that the State Department didn’t fully grasp the complexity of such an operation.

Dempsey informed Kerry that the Air Force could not simply drop a few bombs, or fire a few missiles, at targets inside Syria: To be safe, the U.S. would have to neutralize Syria’s integrated air-defense system, an operation that would require 700 or more sorties. At a time when the U.S. military is exhausted, and when sequestration is ripping into the Pentagon budget, Dempsey is said to have argued that a demand by the State Department for precipitous military action in a murky civil war wasn’t welcome.
Considering Obama's military cutbacks, a large-scale intervention in Syria does appear to be out of the question. Goldberg does not relate how Kerry responded to General Dempsey or what exactly Kerry had in mind. Others apparently have articulated what a Kerry-styled intervention in Syria might look like:
On the other hand, a Kerry partisan told me, U.S. intervention in Syria would not necessarily have to look like U.S. intervention in Iraq. When I mentioned the Albright-Powell exchange of 20 years ago, he pointed out something obvious: President Bill Clinton eventually decided to use air power in the Balkans. And it brought the Serbian government to its knees.
Read the whole thing.

John Kerry
Kerry's plan for US bombing of Syria has been nixed --
for now. Credit: Wiki Commons

But just how comparable is the Balkan model with what Kerry and his followers have in mind?

In discussing Models for possible Syria intervention, the BBC mentions the Balkans as one of them:
It ultimately took the US to overturn this depressing spiral of violence, largely by supplying the anti-Serb resistance in both Croatia and Bosnia with weapons, in defiance of a UN-mandated embargo.

That helped turn the pressure on the Serbs, but only because it was accompanied by a US-led air campaign against Serb paramilitaries that paved the way for the imposition of the US-negotiated Dayton Agreement, ending the Bosnia war in November 1995.

US jets also provided the bulk of the 38,000 sorties that Nato conducted against Serbia between March and June 1999, in an effort to prevent massacres in Kosovo, then an ethnically-Albanian province of Serbia.

In both Bosnia and Kosovo, US air power failed to dislodge Serb forces or destroy the Serbian military.

Still, the Serbs were forced to accept US-dictated settlements to their wars, largely because they were alone: Russian support for Serbia remained confined to rhetoric, unlike Iranian support for today's Syria, which consists of both weapons and battle-hardened fighters.
The main takeaway from this is that the Balkans did require major military strikes over a prolonged period of time -- and in the end, the strikes themselves were not enough. Furthermore, to the extent that the operation was successful, it was because of the isolation of the Serbs -- a situation that stands in stark contrast with Syria, where Russian support goes beyond rhetoric and Iran has troops helping the Assad regime. Both Russia and Iran have geopolitical interests in Syria that bind them to the current government.

Another point raised by the BBC:
The US also eschewed grand objectives, like the recreation of Yugoslavia or regime change in Serbia: the purposes of the military operations in the Balkans were, therefore, more realistic that those currently pursued in Syria.
Will the Obama administration be willing to just neutralize the Assad regime and then just walk away?

The comparison of Syria with the Balkans is far from obvious, unless you are discussing the key differences between the two. In fact, a comparison of the two borders on the superficial.

This is one more indication of the risks involved if Obama -- and Kerry -- follow through on a plan to intervene militarily in Syria.

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